Supermarket cakes full of surprises

Many of them are packed with additives, including artificial colours linked to hyperactivity in children. We tell you which brands to avoid.
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  • Updated:23 Mar 2009

01.Not quite like mother made

girl with cakes

In brief

  • Some supermarket cakes contain more than 20 additives. These can be used by manufacturers to disguise poor quality ingredients.
  • While most additives in cakes appear to be safe, health concerns have been raised about some.

Make a cake at home and you’re unlikely to use more than about six ingredients – butter, eggs, sugar, flour, milk and maybe chocolate, coconut or some fruit. But if you look at the ingredients listed on a cake from the supermarket you might find 40 or more, many of them chemicals you certainly wouldn’t use at home. Worse, they’re likely to include artificial colours that recent research suggests could be linked to hyperactivity in children.

Please note: this information was current as of March 2009 but is still a useful guide today.

What’s in supermarket cakes?

We bought as many different cakes as we could find in Coles and Woolworths stores in Sydney – 97 cakes in total. We then checked the labels and found plenty of ingredients that wouldn’t go into a cake you made yourself, such as egg powder, milk solids, potato or tapioca starch, palm oil, maltodextrin and dextrose. Some of the cakes contained whole eggs and even a little real butter, but nearly all of them included additives identified by numbers.

While a small number of additives in the diet isn’t a problem for most people – and we couldn’t enjoy the convenience of processed foods without them – health and safety concerns have been raised with some of them. Furthermore, additives enable manufacturers to use cheaper ingredients, such as palm oil instead of butter and apple instead of raspberries in jam filling.

The verdict on additives

The Results table gives the average number of additives for each brand (there were too many cakes to list them all).

  • Only one cake, Cottage Cakes Banana Cake, contained no additives other than baking powder.
  • Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Iced and Fresh Cream Filled topped our list with 27 additives, while Top Taste Rollettes Choc and Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Single Birthday Fresh Cream both came a close second with 26.
  • We found eight brands to recommend, which average fewer than 10 additives.


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